Monthly Archives: April 2011


eden citizen’s advice bureau

Rory has offered to help Eden Citizen’s Advice Bureau to help more people through video-conferencing facilities on new
super-fast broadband connections. Manager Christine McKinlay explained to Rory on Tuesday that the Eden Citizens Advice bureau engaged with almost 1,500 clients last year and advised on almost 4,100 issues, ranging from debt and benefits, to housing, employment and legal issues. Through an outreach programme, the Penrith-based CAB also serves Appleby, Alston and Kirkby Stephen.  She said that they wanted video-conferencing to deepen contact with people in more remote parts of Eden and link them
to other support across the county. Rory as offered to work with CAB to find support and equipment for the project, as part of his campaign to bring Eden the best broadband in Europe.

After an hour-long visit to Eden’s Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) at their Sandgate office in Penrith on Tuesday, Rory said: “I’m so grateful to the staff of the Eden CAB for sharing their time and knowledge with me today, and for highlighting how extremely important the service they provide is. It was a visit of immense value, and I learned a great deal about the common problems facing constituents in Penrith and Eden. It’s so easy to think of our beautiful constituency as being an affluent corner of England, when in
fact there are so many suffering hardships every day, from family breakdowns to serious debt difficulties. The CAB offers a practical,
well-informed and meticulously researched advice service, and I am in particular excited about its innovative approach to installing
video-conferencing facilities linking its advisers to clients in more remote parts of Penrith and the Border. I’d also like to encourage as
many constituents as possible to consider a job volunteering with the organisation; just a few hours a week can make all the difference to someone in real need. The volunteers I met with today clearly find it a really fulfilling job to do, and I am so impressed by their

The Eden Citizens Advice Bureau is at 2 Sandgate in Penrith, and online at For more information please call 01768 891 503.



local conservative eden candidates

District Council candidates, Conservative party members and supporters, and Rory Stewart MP filled the Penrith Cornmarket on Easter Monday to launch their May campaign.

Speaking at the launch, Rory said: “There are so many strong candidates here today, and all are carrying a strong message to the electorate.  You are local candidates who want Eden communities to thrive and prosper at a local level. You pledge to listen to constituents, and find solutions to what matters: whether it is building affordable housing, keeping Council Tax rates down or maintaining public services.”

Rory then spent a day canvassing in Penrith, Armathwaite and Hesket.

More information about your local Conservative Eden candidates can be found at



follow bampton’s lead

Rory visited Bampton village hall this Tuesday and hailed it as a ‘model for the country.’ He met Chairman John Garside, Treasurer Lesley White and Secretary Sharon Metcalfe and learned how the village hall committee has connected the solar panels on their roof into national ‘feed-in tarrifs’ to cover not only the cost of their electricity but also generate a thousand pounds a year profit for the hall. They supplement this income with car parking on its premises and from its recycling point. Rory plans to work with the village hall to stage an event in Bampton where other communities can learn from Bampton’s success. He also plans to build a website, linking village halls together across Cumbria so they can share lessons. The Bampton Committee had been grappling with legal issues relating to the Feed-in-Tariffs for the solar power system, which have now been successfully resolved.

Rory hailed the village hall as an example to others in Penrith and the Border, and said: “Bampton Village Hall is a real community success story, and an excellent example of one that can be replicated easily. Their hard work in applying for the PV cells on the roof has paid off, and they now generate an income through FiTs – as well as reducing their electricity bills and being environmentally-aware. A little bit of community effort can go a long way. The hall is, as the Committee explained today, a lifeline to the village, and one that can be financially sustainable too. We need to see more village halls in Penrith and the Border following their enterprising example, and I’d encourage anyone with an interest in solar power to come and take a look at their roof cells and see how inobtrusive and effective they are. I look forward to seeing what ventures the village hall committee come up with next, and to supporting them in the future. There are so many other interesting Village Hall successes around Cumbria and I hope we can deepen the sharing of information between them.”


woodlands tour

Rory spent a day with the Forestry Commission investigating its role in the management of woodlands in his constituency. Following a tense national debate on the issue earlier this year, Rory has now met with representatives of Save Lakeland’s Forests, the National Trust, and the Forestry Commission in an attempt to get a detailed picture of forestry operations in Penrith and the Border.

The Forestry Commission visit included stops at both private and public woodland sites, and included an in-depth briefing on operations across the constituency. Beginning at Coombs Wood near Armathwaite, Rory also visited privately-owned land at Nelson Hill and at Naworth Estate.

Rory said: “This visit has been invaluable in helping me to really understand the enormous depth of work that the Forestry Commission undertakes in Cumbria. I have seen at first-hand the importance of its work, not only in terms of environmental protection, but in the subtle relationships that exist between our native woodlands and our communities. I am so impressed at the knowledge that FC staff have. Whilst our woodlands have been saved, there remain some issues over the future of our forests, and a deeper understanding now will enable me to better fight for their survival and protection in the future.”



morrisons’ post box

Rory has contacted Royal Mail to highlight the need for a post-box to be replaced at Penrith’s newly refurbished Morrisons supermarket. On a recent visit to the store Rory met with campaigners and discussed the need for a post-box with Store Manager Jackie Mills, who has already collected a petition of hundreds of names in support of the box.

Rory said: “Thousands shop at Morrisons each week. I was proud to visit the store, meet some of the hundreds of employees and hold a surgery in the cafe as well. It is one of Penrith‘s hubs, and I believe that there is a clear need to have a post-box here – after all, the store had a post-box before the fire, and it ought to be replaced. I have written to Royal Mail to support the campaign to return the post-box, and hope that this will help to speed things along.“

Guy Mason, Head of Government Affairs for Morrisons, said: “The post-box was extremely popular, and was a great help to many of our customers who have difficulty accessing boxes located in areas where it is difficult to park. We are offering to fund the new box, but need permission from Royal Mail. Rory’s help will be invaluable in getting this replaced as soon as possible.”

Rory is hopeful that Royal Mail will agree to replace the box and resume collections from the store before the Summer.


the future of newton rigg

Rory is ‘cautiously optimistic’ that the Government may now provide guarantees to ‘keep Newton Rigg Cumbrian.’ In response to a year-long Cumbrian campaign, the Skills Funding Agency has said publicly that it will not allow Newton Rigg’s assets to be stripped.

Rory says: “This is a start but it’s not yet good enough. We need it not just in a statement but in the firmest possible legal guarantee. I will be meeting with both representatives of the SFA and the Principal of Askham Bryan College, Liz Philip, in the coming weeks. I want to make sure there is a stronger written legal commitment to protect the land and assets of the college. I will also continue to fight for the formation of an asset-holding Trust.”

Until the SFA and the new provider makes such a written legal commitment, Rory continues to urge Cumbrians to join the petition to ‘Keep Newton Rigg Cumbrian’ by emailing names to [email protected]


wigton’s spring sale


Rory spent the morning of April 12th at Hopes Auction Mart in Wigton talking to farmers and staff assembled for the mart’s popular Spring Sale of cattle and sheep. In a show of solidarity with the region’s farming industry Rory chatted with farmers about a variety of issues, from delayed single farm payments to volatile market prices and the establishment of an internal drainage board. The local MP was delighted to be present for the Easter cattle show, and spent some time observing the bull and heifer categories.
Rory said: “Although times are undeniably tough for farmers at the moment, there was a really positive air at the mart today. Wigton and Allerdale farmers should be proud of the result – there has been a tremendous show of both cattle and hoggs, with early spring lambs averaging £3 per kilo. I always enjoy coming here, and get a real sense of how the market equates on the ground.”
Rory also met with auctioneers David Bowman and Bruce Walton, and was given a tour by Hopes director Stuart Robertson.



rory visits wigton’s chrysalis

Rory met staff and members of Wigton charity Chrysalis last Tuesday April 12th at their Longthwaite Road site, and visited their wholefoods shop in the town.

In discussions with managers Claire Doherty and Julie Kemp, Rory focused on the charity’s contract with Adult Social Care, and discussed ways in which it is might generate business income and more charitable donations alongside its more traditional sources of funding.

Rory said he was incredibly impressed at the range of work that the charity carries out, and its flexible and modern approach to generating both opportunities for its members. He said: “Chrysalis is showing how it can interact in really valuable ways with the local community, in particular with its excellent wholefoods shop that is staffed by some of its members. The centre here has a vibrant, positive atmosphere, and it is being run by managers who are real visionaries. I would also like to invite Chrysalis to become my Charity of the Month.”

Rory also said that he believed government should be “far more flexible” in dealing with local Cumbrian charities. “Because of the complexity of procurement contracts and the volume of paperwork, local charities – who are doing excellent work – often find it difficult to compete for contracts with national charities with giant fund-raising teams. Chrysalis is a great example of a local provider which should be supported.“

Chrysalis, established in 1984, offers support services for adults with learning disabilities, and works across north Cumbria to provide a wide range of activities including creative arts, horticulture, sports, fell-walking, and – through its wholefood shop in Wigton, which Rory also visited – practical business experience in a retail environment. For more information please call Chrysalis on 016973 44751 or email [email protected].


on history

In Wigton last Tuesday I learnt that it is about to celebrate its 750th anniversary as a market town. I am really looking forward to it but I have to confess I find Wigton in 1262 a place foreign in almost every conceivable way. In 1262 most of the people spoke a dialect heavily influenced by northern German.  The lord of Wigton would have worn chain-mail, spent much of his day prancing and practising with his sword and lance while speaking Norman French. Some saw it as part of Scotland. Others – who spoke almost pure Norse –  would have been more aware of the sea connections to the Isle of Man, the Orkneys, Ireland and Scandinavia. 1262, therefore, relates to us hardly more than the palaeolithic rhinoceros excavated in Bloomsbury relates to us.

The hundred thousand man hours and the miles of sweat and pain that dragged those great boulders across the fells, the endless, repeated rituals and sacrifices enacted on and around Long Meg and her sisters, feel more alien still. King Arthur’s roundtable feels only like a suburban lawn beside a roundabout at Eamont Bridge; and the deep, secret hollow of Mayburgh Hedge echoes with the roar of the M6.  Long Meg has become nothing more, perhaps, than a place to walk the terrier on a sunny spring afternoon.

Often, therefore, history can feel like little more than a gimmick, or marketing slogan.  As when, for example, we etch two thousand year old sheep-counting numerals (yann, tann, tethera…) on the glass door of a conference suite; or when a broadband group cheerfully skates over centuries of cross-border brutality by calling itself Rory’s Reivers. Thus we tame the terrifying and mysterious past: domesticate it like a lion in a provincial zoo.  But historical traditions still live, hidden often in the most unexpected places, such as our schools.

Our secondary schools hardly seem places of deep history. Each is now modern, state-funded, and stamped with contemporary curricula and teaching methods.  In Appleby, design students are learning about pricing, bar codes and inventory management; in Nelson Thomlinson there are excellent training laboratories for teachers; in Kirkby Stephen there are extraordinary musical performances; at Ullswater Community College there is a new and very vigorous student council.  Each has been transformed by generous investment over the last decade, and are making the most of new facilities and young teachers. Each looks far beyond Cumbria and has begun exchanges with schools in the developing world: Appleby with South Africa, Ullswater with Tanzania, QEGS with Uganda, William Howard also with Tanzania.

But each is built on very old foundations. In Appleby, the original chantry dates to the thirteenth century, and the current grammar school has a charter from Queen Elizabeth I in 1574. Even the much younger school in Wigton was endowed by the Reverend Thomlinson in 1730. And just as a regiment in the army creates and preserves its own identity, or Parliament moulds MPs generation after generation, so too each school has developed its own historical momentum and culture. Even something as old as the Cumbrian church has no equivalent of the dense texture of teachers, and pupils, sports teams and choirs, which reinforce an identity through a five-day-a-week immersion, month after month, over hundreds of years. History is carried, deepened, developed and preserved by the personalities and inclinations of centuries of teachers and students.

Of course, I cannot tell which aspect of each school’s culture is ancient and which new. I am struck, for example, by the tidiness with which the children in Appleby stack their backpacks (or the fact that they can leave them all day outside lockers without any fear of theft, in a way very few southern schools could). And by the robust common-sense of the Head Teacher of Nelson Thomlinson, and her pragmatic, sceptical attitude toward bureaucratic paperwork, which was evident also in her predecessor.  But I am sure that there will be many other things which I missed – traditions which will be preserved in unexpected and subtle ways: in the culture of sport and study, the way in which children wear their uniforms, greet teachers, walk through the corridors, and in the balance between freedom and discipline.

These ingredients – subtle and hidden – are intensely important. Like any complex living organism, we appreciate their importance and their beauty most when they are gone. People in London now talk about our schools as some of the most outstanding in the country, just as they talk about our community broadband projects (such as the very impressive Northern Fells Broadband Group, which I met at Rosley yesterday); or our Big Society projects in Eden.  Such projects, however, owe their power not only to this generation but also to things given and shaped by previous generations: things that cannot always be replaced, replicated or even named. This is why we need to be so careful with a century-old institution like Newton Rigg. Not so much for the things we can see it doing today, or for the more obvious signs of its history such as its buildings, but because of all the identity, energy and resilience which comes from a living human tradition – and which lives more strongly in an educational institution than anywhere else.


easter newsletter

Dear All,

First – thank you to everyone who supported the campaign to save the Penrith cinema. This Thursday, the owners, Graves, telephoned me to say that they have agreed to keep it open for another ten years. It is a most generous gesture by Graves. But it is also a real triumph for all of you: for the many people who joined the marches; for the many people who signed up to our new website; for the primary school children who organised their own campaigns; also  for the many, many people who pledged money – our website registered £120,000 of pledges and donations in four weeks. And most of all the extraordinary work that was done by the organising committee – it seems unfair to name names because there were so many people involved but I can’t avoid singling out Ruth, Dawn, Ron and Adrian (read more here). It has all paid off; a wonderful institution which is so important for our town has been saved for another generation. Thank you and well done!

I was delighted to persuade Defra Secretary of State, Caroline Spelman, and Minister of State for Agriculture, Jim Paice, to visit Penrith and the Border last month. (The only Minister we still need to get up from DEFRA is Richard Benyon). I was even more delighted that they used the trip to launch a new policy to support upland farming (including a new package to support our priority of rural broadband). They spent a packed day in the constituency – starting off with breakfast at an upland farm at seven and continuing in a round of visits to all our Big Society vanguard projects, to Newton Rigg and concluding with long, focused discussions with groups of upland and dairy farmers in the afternoon. Again to everyone who participated – thank you for your hospitality.  Caroline Spelman said the visit was a “triumph” and one of her most enjoyable and useful in either Opposition or Government. Neither of them will ever forget the people they met, and the visit was really important for a constituency that can be too often ignored by London.

Our superfast broadband initiative is gathering momentum. The Penrith conference brought the Obama broadband team together with Cumbrian communities, companies, and officials from London. And it allowed us to become an extra pilot area for rural broadband, and to access millions of pounds of support through Broadband Delivery UK.  BT has since independently announced that Penrith would be one of their first places to be upgraded for broadband in their ‘market-towns’ initiative. Other companies have come to the constituency to trial new technology – ranging from wireless signals to sending data directly down electricity lines.

But most impressive of all are the community schemes  (click here to read an article about such schemes in the Observer). I am looking forward to a visit in mid-April to the Northern Fells broadband group. A fortnight ago I initiated a debate in Parliament, dedicated to rural broadband, and was delighted that so many other MPs were eager to participate and share experiences. Over a dozen colleagues spoke and many more wanted to, so I plan to hold a longer debate soon. (You can see a video of the debate here). This Friday, Cumbria County Council issued a tender worth £121 million over five years to supply the whole county with a next generation broadband network. Finally, I expect a number of rural community-led broadband schemes to be announced shortly, so watch this space. We will continue to press in every way to bring the best superfast broadband to the most sparsely populated constituency in England.

All in all, this has been a season of community campaigns. Perhaps the greatest – and most effective – campaign (on a larger scale than the cinema) was the one that convinced the government to revisit its proposals on forestry. It brilliantly demonstrated how much the public forests mean to everyone through personal appeals, mass rallies and mailing: I personally received e-mails from nearly five hundred people. And I was delighted to be able to follow up by spending a day in March in the constituency with the Forestry Commission staff visiting the public forest estate and discussing how we could further encourage visitors to the area.

The campaign against windfarms has again been an extraordinary example of community ingenuity, tenacity and dedication. I am working closely with local communities opposed to wind farms in their parishes – from Sleagill and Reagill, to Rosley to Roadhead. (If you are interested in finding out more please click here). One way in which I have been able to help is by building websites for community campaigns: the broadband and Penrith cinema websites should now be followed by launching a one-stop wind farm website, bringing together material from all the Cumbrian campaigns.

These are just a few among hundreds of extraordinary community initiatives. Some of the others I have been privileged to be able to support in a small way through the Big Society vanguard. These include Crosby Ravensworth, where the Butcher’s Arms is close to being bought by the community, and where (when the hibernating bat wakes from a cold winter) building work will begin on the community-led affordable housing project delivering 22 new homes to the community; Appleby, where the Bongate hydro project is pioneering ground-breaking marine technology that is safe for fish and has zero impact on the landscape; Kirkby Stephen and Appleby, where community work is progressing on looking at ways to run their Tourist Information Centres; and Upper Eden which has taken the lead in both broadband and community planning.

But the ‘inkspot’ spreads far further than these projects in Eden. We have the second highest participation in voluntary organisations of any constituency in the country. Voluntary organisations continue to do incredible work in very difficult financial circumstances. Community groups from the Northern Fells, through Sustainable Alston to Brampton continue to drive through creative, compassionate, courageous schemes on their own. School-children in Cumbria are wonderfully engaged in projects helping communities from Carlisle to Africa. (I tried to communicate some of the energy of Cumbrian communities in a parliamentary debate – click here).

Finally, as you know, the world has been dealing with a very difficult situation in Libya. I have been arguing – on the basis of what I saw in Afghanistan – that if you dip your toes into an intervention it is very easy to sink up to your neck. A no-fly zone was right but we should not be dragged in any deeper. (Again, if you are interested here are some links to a couple of parliamentary speeches (see here and here), to an article, here, and to a Question Time debate with Niall Ferguson, Ken Livingstone, Danny Alexander and Bianca Jagger – click here to watch.

Perhaps the longest-standing and most difficult of our campaigns is that for our agricultural college, Newton Rigg. This has been going on for more than a year. Hundreds of you have emailed and written to me, and signed the petition to ‘Keep Newton Rigg Cumbrian’. I continue to push Ministers weekly on the issue, and am now focused on designing legal protections to preserve the land and farms of the college and prevent asset-stripping by any future occupant of the site. Click here to read my open Letter to the Herald.  Please, if you haven’t already done so, sign the petition or write to me (details here) – the more pressure the better. We must fight to preserve something unique to Cumbria and so important for Britain.

Very Happy Easter.

With best regards,